“DRAMATIC” AND “CONTEMPORARY” are two words that spring to mind when entering this space of greys, blacks and reds. Eyes are drawn to the room’s middle row of tables: red chairs tucked under matching tables, each mounted with metal statuesque red “flames” that act as mock dividers for communal dining.
Flanking this red-hot area are leathery, large grey booths set with stylish black armless chairs.
Couples occupy a few, but it feels empty because of the high ceiling and echoing music.
Our waitress, friendly but not practised in the ways of formal dining, informs us they had a busy weekend, so they are out of some meats. All the food here is halal, but other than that, the menu’s culinary approach is decidedly undecided. Their list of “ethnic and international food” covers the gamut: spring rolls, quesadilla, pakora, Caesar salad, N.Y. strip loin, sashlik, tandoori, fettucine alfredo.
A trio of samosas ($4.99) starts things off splendidly. Crispy pastry exteriors yield to soft, seasoned filling of carrot, potato, lentils and onion. A small ramekin of sweet tamarind sauce makes this an appetizer to remember.
Deep-fried but grease-free calamari ($9.99) is memorable, too, but this time it’s the presentation that piques interest. Instead of Hula Hoop rings, the fresh calamari is cut in vertical strips — the result is an assembly that looks like a basket of fries. The side dip is labelled “chili-lime aioli,” but it tastes like mayonnaise.
1070 Major Mackenzie Dr. E.
Dinner for two excluding tax,
tip and alcohol:
Small salads follow, part and parcel of all entrees. Squiggles of creamy bottled Caesar dressing decorate romaine, croutons and powdered parm; and a ramekin of emulsified balsamic vinaigrette balances on a plate of iceberg, tomato, chopped onion and cucumber in garden salad.
Things seem to fall apart as we move on to mains. Our server recommends the signature dish, sashlik ($12.99) but warns of spicy seasoning. What arrives disappoints. Save for a turn or two of the pepper grinder and a pinch of salt, the seasoning is indiscernible on two skewers of cubed chicken (beef and lamb also available). It’s true the portion is generous and the meat moist, but it lacks flavour. A dish of blah brothlike sauce on the side doesn’t help.
The same sauce accompanies the 12-ounce strip loin, one cut alongside filet mignon and rib-eye under “steaks.” Lovely grill marks and a tender texture are about all that can be bragged of, as the meat was cooked past medium (I’d asked for rare), and it was oversalted — even for me.
Main courses are served with any two of rice, roast potato, mashed potato, French fries or seasonal vegetables. Among them, rice stands out from the crowd. It’s immaculately timed, balanced with butter. “Roast potato,” however, brought a hash brown–like potato creation (with purple onion) in an unpleasant, goopy, piquant sauce.
Seasonal vegetables procures a mound of hyper-honey-sweetened roasted spaghetti squash with diced onion, occasional mutilated squash seeds and chopped chives. While the side was certainly “seasonal” and comforting, whole-plate thinking might have led to the realization that squash paired with any other side translates into starch plus starch.
Carrot, beet or anything green might have made a more colourful, balanced offering.
Things look up again as we round the corner to dessert. Homemade chocolate cream cake provides a sweet, light finish — its three layers and sassily smeared icing are neither too dense nor too rich. Sashlik is Muslim owned, so drinks are nonalcoholic.
Hits and misses mean Sashlik shows promise but needs to focus on strengths.